The record industry discovered some time ago that there arent that many people who actually like music. For a lot of people, musics annoying, or at the very least they dont need it. They discovered if they could sell music to a lot of those people, they could sell a lot more records.
A weekend at sea
Ive traveled to the southeast coast of England, having booked a weekend stay at the Camber Sands outpost of a cheesy U.K. resort chain called Pontins. Several dozen pasty attendants stalk the grounds in blue-and-yellow windbreakers. They look like scurvy-ridden basketball players in warmup suits. Theres something familiar about the Pontins logo on their breast pockets. I struggle with déjà vu until I fixate, and realize its almost identical to the logo for the Pokémon cartoon. Indeed, the mood of the place feels a bit like the stage set for a live-action Pokémon film, one that might at any moment break out into arty triple-X action. Its a fetid, dour place, particularly so on the rainy afternoon on which I arrive.
The strange thing is, the people around me seem to be enjoying themselves. Its obvious that no one is visiting for the charms of this seaside town the fried food, the Technicolor alcohol, a few rounds of miniature golf. Instead theyre here for the second weekend of All Tomorrows Parties, a festival of independent music programmed 10 hours a day, for the next three days, on the holiday villages two large stages. No one frets over the weather, because everyone will forgo the beach in favor of witnessing sets by three dozen of the globes most famous cult music acts. The legion of indie-music fans will leave with their record-geek ardor intensified and sickly pallor intact.
The music is a bit like my initial vision of a Pokémon skin flick underground and mainstream all at once. Day 1, curated by former Pavement front man Stephen Malkmus, features a lineup drawn from todays college-radio charts Modest Mouse, the Shins, Fiery Furnaces. Its notable that indie rocks most popular bands have accepted Malkmus invitation to play this godforsaken place, but even more so is the presence of two bands from the 80s Mission of Burma, a wiry Boston post-punk band, and ESG, a primitive funk group from the South Bronx. Both were little celebrated in their prime and have been mostly dormant for 20 years. Both have reunited, their reputations blooming as influences on the strain of obscure pop music currently going through an unprecedented renaissance.
The subsequent day is a maelstrom of noise featuring drum-bass duo Lightning Bolt, indie film star Vincent Gallo, and Angelblood, whose main attraction is a warbling blonde in a full body stocking. Its capped off by performances from MC Dizzee Rascal Britains answer to 50 Cent and a shambling pop band known mostly for their name. Theyre called Fuck. This may be a bit of programming cleverness, since the final day features Jackie-O Motherfucker an unreconstructed noise band from upstate New York opening up for Love With Arthur Lee, a 60s peer of the Doors.
The weekend feels like a rebuke to cynical rock-star machinations and industry pigeonholes. The audience is ecstatic. The musicians are in good spirits. Many of them, including Sonic Youths Thurston Moore, can be seen walking among the audience, paying close attention to their fellow performers.
Moore presides over the clamor of the event like a proud papa. His band was responsible for selecting day 2s lineup. And as a group widely hailed as the godfathers of alternative rock, Sonic Youth is having a moment in the sun. The whole weekend is a series of alternatives.
This song is called Stones, Moore announces from the stage when its his bands turn to play. Its about stones not the Rolling Stones, though we like all those English beat bands from the 60s.
I think theyre still together, interjects guitarist Lee Ranaldo. The 48-year-old Ranaldo was schoolboy age when many of the classic early rock bands were in their prime.
Yeah, they have that Tommy Hilfiger sound, and thats cool, answers Moore, referring to the oft-lampooned corporate sponsor of tours by David Bowie and the Rolling Stones.
Cool for them, spits Ranaldo. He sounds like a man on a mission to destroy corporate rock, and, most surprising, convinced his mission just might succeed.
The small new future
All Tomorrows Parties was full of odd conjunctions hip-hop stars playing with indie rockers, bizarre noise bands warming up for 60s veterans but it would have seemed even odder a few years ago. The 21st century has found the music industry reeling and confused. In the last six years, a series of mergers have brought the number of major labels the core of the corporate record business down from six to four. Universal absorbed Polygram in 1998. After a recent thumbs-up from European regulators, BMG is set to merge with Sony. Now rumors abound that EMI and Warner Music may join forces and bring that number to three. Five years ago, people would paint this as a sign of the corporate industrys dominance. Today it seems more like a circling of the wagons.Also in this issue ALEC HANLEY BEMIS debunks three myths about todays record industry!